August 18, 2011
Clinton, Panetta Skip Over Arab Spring
Apparently Wolf Blitzer had bigger things to do than host a conversation with Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta - like interview President Barack Obama himself. Unfortunately Blizter’s absence didn’t dull the administration's whitewashing in the slightest. Facing limited resistance from Frank Sesno, Director of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, Obama’s Secretaries went to work ignoring the geopolitical reality confronting America.
An ailing foreign policy creates enough problems without adding predictability to the equation.
The most unpredictable development through our eyes was surely obvious to others. Despite the current emphasis on budgets, including the Department of Defense, the State Department’s media notice didn’t say anything about budgets taking up the first third of the hour. This subject, though vital to foreign policy, was employed as a diversion from wide-ranging topics such as the Arab Spring, Israel and Palestine, and China - among other blackouts.
The worst type of foreign policy interview reads like a scripted Q&A, just the type of stiff “nonversation” held at National Defense University. Rather than challenge Clinton and Panetta, Sesno accepts their choreographed answers with relatively little objection. New information is a reasonable expectation given that the “conversation” opened in a symbolic location, at a critical moment during the Arab Spring. However the question of a downed Chinook triggers the same response that Panetta has delivered over the past year.
“The mission, as the President said, is that we have to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, and make sure that it never again finds a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to launch attacks to this country. I think we’ve made good progress on it. I think – I just talked with General Allen this morning. We are making very good progress in terms of security, particularly in the south and southwest. Those are difficult areas. We’ve now got to try to improve the situation in the east. But overall, the situation is doing much better. We have weakened the Taliban significantly, and we’re continuing to work on that.”
The need to defeat al-Qaeda (a foreign agent) by defeating the Taliban (a nationalistic movement) is a primary flaw in the Obama administration’s strategy. An unbelievable political campaign in Western states isn’t far behind, and the Secretaries don’t linger in Afghanistan.
Cued by 35 attacks across Iraq, Clinton and Panetta paste a similar response onto a country still struggling to meet Washington’s rhetoric. “Of two minds” on the situation, Clinton acknowledges Iraq’s chronic instability before ultimately concluding that everything is generally moving in the right direction. That an influx of U.S. forces and many political factors contained the spill of total civil war isn’t disputable, but George Bush’s surge left a pre-existing insurgency (now infused by al-Qaeda) in the void. Accepting Iraq’s improvement is one part realism, one part denial of the fact that America nearly caused the civil war that U.S. officials credit themselves for averting.
36 U.S. troops have died from hostile incidents since Obama declared combat operations “over” in August 2010, in addition to 450 Iraqi security forces and some 1,500 civilians. These numbers are fractions of 2005-2007 figures, when 2,000 civilians and hundreds of security forces could lose their lives in a single month. Yet the surge’s drop-off in violence has refused to burnout, instead developing a stable trend since 2009. Whether U.S. forces remain in the country to train Iraqi forces or are evicted by popular pressure, the cumulative Sunni/Shia insurgency should be able to sustain itself for another two years minimum.
Failure to overcome political, economic and social divisions - none of which have been reconciled - will further extend the insurgency’s life-span. Realizing that Iraq’s outcome undermines a stable transition in Afghanistan, the administration is clinging to success for more reasons than Obama’s campaign promise. Weaken on one war directly impacts the other.
However this connection appears destined to invert, with Clinton and Panetta remaining “open” to Baghdad’s request for extended military assistance - the same plan cooked up for Kabul 2015. Doggedly evasive to questions on a residual force, which the administration has privately lobbied for, the politically-correct Clinton responds, “I think it would be irresponsible of us not to listen to what they’re requesting.” At this point she makes the sole mention of Bahrain in defending U.S. counter-terrorism training in “Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.”
Although most Iraqis don’t believe that the country’s security forces will keep them safe, many believe that the presence of U.S. troops antagonizes both Sunni and Shia elements.
Soon the conversation shifts to Pakistan, where Clinton and Panetta go soft on a battered government and military. This lenient approach wasn’t surprising given external reports over conditional U.S. aid, Pakistan’s request for a drone veto and Chinese spycraft. The Secretaries keep moving when asked about Osama bin Laden’s raid or the Haqqani network, eager to praise Islamabad while still adding demands. Eventually Russo jumps to al-Qaeda, allowing Panetta to take over with his rehearsed “al-Qaeda is weakened but not defeated” pitch. True to a degree, Panetta seems more concerned with finding new war-zones than permanently dismembering the group.
“Those that are suggesting somehow that this is a good time to pull back are wrong. This is a good time to keep putting the pressure on to make sure that we really do undermine their ability to conduct any kind of attacks on this country... So the answer to your question is that we have made serious inroads in weakening al-Qaida. There’s more to be done. There are these nodes now in Yemen, in Somalia, and other areas that we have to continue to go after. But I think we are on the path to being – seriously weakening al-Qaida as a threat to this country.”
This statement marks the full extent of Clinton and Panetta’s response to Yemen. Evidently the “most dangerous threat to America,” according to the Pentagon, doesn’t warrant any discussion on its revolution.
Instead the Secretaries predictably zeroed on Syria and Libya to block out the peripherals of Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolution. Clinton audaciously highlights King Abdullah’s recent condemnation of Bashar al-Assad to vouch for U.S. policy, simultaneously covering up Yemen and Bahrain’s peaceful uprisings. While Syria and Libya’s bloodshed exceeds their counterparts, Yemen’s revolution has witnessed thousands of casualties, scores of wounded and collective punishment as the government manipulates fuel and electricity supplies. We generously predicted that Clinton would back Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation through the GCC’s initiative, an unpopular move in Yemen.
She couldn’t even muster a single statement on the revolution.
Having dropped all pretense of an honest reflection of U.S. foreign policy, both Clinton and Panetta conclude with a flourish of “values” that belies the administration's response to the Arab Spring. America’s message, according to Clinton, is that, “we have a very clear view that others need to be taking the same steps to enforce a universal set of values and interests.” As the administration lavishes attention on Libya and Syria’s oppositions, Yemenis and Bahrainis are courageously fighting for universal rights and self-determination in darkness. Bahrain’s opposition is well organized, if not united, while Yemenis have done extraordinary job patching up the social rifts opened by Saleh.
Yet the opposition’s newest revolutionary council, announced weeks in advance, triggered another non-response from the White House or State Department, just as Yemen’s first youth council and a tribal alliance were greeted with silence. Thursday's coordinated assault on Syria further highlighted the extent the administration is willing to push its double-standard.
Israelis and Palestinians met a similar fate on Tuesday when Clinton opted to skip the conflict entirely, an clear indicator of stagnation. Earlier in the day the Quartet had released a toothless critique of Israel’s latest settlements in the West Bank, but a light warning is no substitute for real policy. That Clinton had nothing positive to say jives with the optimism she tries to project, and portends to an explosive battle over Palestinian statehood. These gaping holes in policy expose her conversation with Panetta as the mirage that it was doomed to be.
Although the Secretaries deployed to challenge impressions that the administration is overwhelmed by foreign events, they act as though Washington is on top of every conflict and revolution. Few details are offered except for the budget, which points to the very counter-terrorism strategy that Clinton and Panetta shy away from explaining. Both talk about America’s “values” of universal freedom and human rights, as if these values are inclusively American, then contradict everything they supposedly stand for. Panetta drags on about, “a nation that has a special role in the world, a special role because of our military power, a special role because we’re a diplomatic power, but more importantly, a special role because of our values and our freedoms.”
Meanwhile he’s antagonizing a whole nation of Yemenis with drones and Special Forces/CIA trainers for Saleh’s regime.
The self-admitted hypocrisy of Clinton and Panetta’s “conversation” provides little redeeming value. They delivered as promise, if nothing else, but no comfort can be found in meeting expectations, a rarity for the administration. Their selective rhetoric mimicking Washington’s selective democracy, the Secretaries reveal a grim foreign policy wholly unprepared to ride the Arab Spring’s revolutionary wave. They came to do exactly as they did.
Sadly their words and actions are the opposite of what America needs at this point in history.